Jetsetters will be queueing up for Iridium global satellite phones when they debut in November - but be warned, they will not come cheap and the have some major drawbacks.
Iridium satellite phones will allow callers to make a phone call from anywhere in the world, from London to Lima to the Gobi desert, as they are able to adapt to the country?s cellular systems.
Unfortunately, like all cool new gadgets, they don?t come cheap. The phones, made by Motorola and Kyocera, will cost between $3,000 and $4,000 with all the bells and whistles that make them work on every cellular network.
Satellite calls cost around $3 per minute and the cost of a service will depend on the carrier. Because of the costs involved, Iridium phones are being pitched hard at high flying executives.
Iridium technology is not without its problems. Bugs in the software have already forced its launch back to November. Manufacturers, however, claim these problems - which centred around calls cutting out - have been ironed out.
Iridium phones are the same size as cordless phones with a snap-on antenna, which is needed only when a user wants to make satellite calls. The phone searches for a local cellular service, and if it cannot find one calls are sent via satellite. Incoming calls work in the same way.
Major drawbacks include the need for a straight line of access to satellites for connection - so the devices will not work in buildings and outside among skyscrapers.
Surprisingly, they will not provide great computer connections either - around 2,400bauds, which is way too slow for Internet and email access. This is an aspect analysts believe will have to be dramatically improved if Iridium is really going to catch on.
Billing is also complicated. Phone bills have to be generated for calls originating from thousands of destinations through both satellite and cellular networks. These have to be cleared, translated into the currency of the phone customer and added to their general bill.
The good news, however, is that Iridium prices are expected to drop next year when competitors enter the market, namely Globalstar.
Iridium was the dream child of Motorola engineers. It has now been spun off into an independent company, in which Motorola owns 19 per cent and has the $3.5 billion contract to build the expensive satellite infrastructure. Other partners include Sprint and Italy?s Stet. A 66-satellite network has been created to support the Iridium service.
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